Dave Thomas, who has died, aged 79, was a four-time Ryder Cup golfer who followed an illustrious playing career in which he twice finished runner-up in The Open Championship by becoming a renowned designer of more than 100 courses.
European Tour Chief Executive George O’Grady, who presented Thomas with Honorary Life Membership of The European Tour earlier this year, led the tributes: “Dave became a household name in the 1950s and 1960s when he helped to build the game in Britain and all over the world. He was a larger than life character, a truly great guy, and our condolences are with his partner Carol and Dave’s sons Michael and Paul.
“Wherever The Tour has travelled from Britain to the Continent to the Rest of the World we have played on courses designed by Dave and both as a player and an architect he leaves a lasting legacy to the game he truly loved.”
Sandy Jones, Chief Executive of the Professional Golfers’ Association, said: “I am very sad to learn of the passing of Dave Thomas. He was the proud Captain of The PGA in our Centenary Year of 2001 and everyone would agree he was a legend of the professional game. He was always great company and a kind and gentle man.
“I feel a great privilege to have shared many enjoyable times in his company when he would enthral me with great stories from his life in golf as we enjoyed a glass of red. He will be very sadly missed by me and all who knew him.”
Thomas, born and raised in Newcastle, turned professional in 1949 when he watched some of the game’s great champions including Fred Daly, Max Faulkner and the legendary Sam Snead competing in The Ryder Cup at Ganton in Yorkshire, England, which left such a lasting impression that he was determined as a player to aspire to the same standards.
Ten years later Thomas made his Ryder Cup debut at Eldorado Country Club in California against Cary Middlecoff, three times a Major Champion, and Snead himself and with Harry Weetman halved their foursomes.
He would play in three more Ryder Cups with the last in 1967 at the Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas, where he partnered a young Tony Jacklin in all four fourballs and foursomes, earning 2 ½ points, before halving his match with Gene Littler in the singles.
Thomas, who was elected to The Welsh Sports Hall of Fame (WSHF) in 2002, represented Wales 11 times in the World Cup of Golf between 1957 and 1970 and, following his win in the 1955 British Assistants, he captured more than 20 titles including the Belgian Open (1955), the Dutch Open (1958), the French Open (1959) and the PGA Match Play (1963).
In 1958 Thomas tied the Australian Peter Thomson for The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes, losing the 36-hole play-off, and in 1966 at Muirfield he finished tied second with Doug Sanders one stroke behind Jack Nicklaus.
Thomas was recognised throughout his career for his long, straight driving – in 1967 during a practice round for The Open Championship at Hoylake he hit a drive onto the green at the 420 yards second hole.
After arthritis brought a premature end to his playing career, Thomas immersed himself in his other great passion of golf course designing. Together with Peter Alliss, he designed The Belfry’s famous Brabazon Course on which The Ryder Cup was played in 1985, 1989, 1993 and 2002.
His CV also includes De Vere Slaley Hall in Northumberland where GB and Ireland will play the United States in the PGA Cup in September, St Leon Rot, a European Tour Destination Course in Germany, where Europe will defend the Solheim Cup in 2015, the Roxburgh in Scotland, San Roque in Spain, Cannes Mougins, La Baule and Terre Blanche in France and courses in Africa, China, Japan, South America and Taiwan.
Alliss said: “The death of David Thomas saw the closing of a major chapter of my life, both on and off the golf course.
“We met in the mid 1950s and remained friends until his passing. We played hundreds of rounds together in exhibition matches and tournaments throughout the length and breadth of the world. We travelled together. Dare I say, we knew each other’s innermost secrets. We designed over 50 golf courses together, though perhaps our partnership was rather forgotten over the latter years.
“He was good company and over indulged, certainly on good food and good wine. How he lived to be 79 is a miracle of the human spirit. My thoughts are with Carol and boys at this sad time. He leaves behind a big footprint which I’ve always been delighted to walk alongside. Rest easy old friend.”
Brian Huggett, who partnered Thomas in representing Wales in the World Cup of Golf on three occasions and played on two Ryder Cup teams together, said: “He was a great friend and a lovely man. I remember playing with him in the World Cup in 1969 in Singapore and we came to 250 yard par three where he was the only player in the field who could reach. There was a hole-in-one prize of two first class tickets round the world and some spending money and sure enough he holed his tee shot. On the flight home he simply asked if I minded if he kept the two tickets but would give me £1,000. There was never any discussion about splitting the prize, and I hadn’t even considered it but just shows the generosity of the man.
“He really was a fantastic player – one of the longest hitters and there was nothing like watching his drives soaring way in his heyday. He was also one of the first pros to become a first class course designer around the world and he was very proud of that. Everyone who knew him will miss him.”
Former Ryder Cup golfer John O’Leary, Ambassador of Buckinghamshire Golf Club and a lifetime friend of Thomas, said: “I first met David at Little Island Golf Club in Cork in 1969 and from that day until this I, along with so many other people, received his wonderful generosity of spirit towards life. David’s passing is a huge loss to everyone around the world who knew, loved and respected him. The legacy that David leaves is immense.”
Ken Schofield, Executive Director of The European Tour from 1975 to 2004, said: “The legacy of David Thomas is unique in that of the modern British professionals he has twinned championship play with a quantity and quality of golf course designs that will endure as long as the game is played. David was the ultimate gentle giant.”
Thomas is survived by his partner, Carol and two sons, Michael and Paul. His wife, Robbie, and another son, Philip, predeceased him.
A funeral service will be held at the Manilva Crematorium on Monday, September 2, at 1.30pm and afterwards at the San Roque Club, Sotogrande, Spain. No Flowers. Donations to the PGA Benevolent Fund c/o David Wright, The PGA, Centenary House, The Belfry, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands B76 9PT